About Refugees, By Refugees

Khashayar Parnoon

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Photo and interview by:




Ali Jehad

My dream is I have my own shop,” says Khashayar Parnoon (29), an Iranian refugee working as a tattoo artist in Sweden. Khashayar left Iran over three years ago. It’s been difficult. Memories of the journey and the nine months he spent in a refugee camp in Greece weigh heavily on him, as does his thinking about life in Iran compared to now: “I had house. I had car. I had bank account. I had money, but I leaved everything in my country, you know, like I don’t have nothing right now, you know, nothing – like zero.” That’s not all he has left behind. “I cannot see my family. I miss for them. I miss for my country.” All of this has taken a toll: “In the evening when I’m alone at home, you know, and then I’m start thinking about the past, you know, I get sad.” He has developed ways to try and cope: “I just pray God,” he says. It has “really helped.” His positivity has also seen him through the worst times. “I believe myself. When you believe yourself, you can stay strong.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Awesome. So, Khashayar, right?

Khashayar. Cool, so let’s do this interview. Um, so we’re going to talk mostly about current times, first. So what kind of housing do you live in? Like, what’s your living situation?
Now? In Sweden?

Really bad situation.

Your housing situation is really bad?
Yeah, now I’m really confused, you know, like I’m stuck between what should I do, you know, like..

No, no, no. I mean, like where you live.
Uh, yeah. This house, you mean.

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
So this is really pretty house, you can see.

So, your situation..

…with the house you live?
Yeah. It’s good. It’s good.

It’s a good house. I’m, I’m comfortable but I feel it’s not my house, you know, because I’m living with my partner, you know, so.

How long have you been?
One month or yeah.

So, it’s…
Over one month, like two months, yeah.

Ok. So it’s pretty new like..


And how does that make you feel? You said that feels like this isn’t your house. Can you?
She is really kind to me. You know, she’s a really good person. We really liked each other, you know, and we have respect, you know, each other. But I try to feel more comfortable here to feeling this is my house and this is my my life. You know, you have to follow the way you know, it’s like that.

Um, so. How do you spend most of your time? The time that you have..
Uh, um, uh, some painting, if I’m if I’m free, I’m painting or I study like Swedish to learn and to learn Swedish. And sometimes I’m going out with my friends. Like exercising. Yeah, but most most painting. I really like to paint, you know, because when I’m painting I’m just painting and focus on thinking, you know.

That’s awesome. What, what kind of what kind of feeling do you get when you paint?
I feel like free, you know, like I’m free thinking and then I can make a really good decision for myself, you know, like when I’m painting, you know, and sometimes I’m paint my think, you know, like..

Ah, your thoughts.
No, Yeah. My thoughts. Yeah.

That’s cool. And you said you do that when you’re free. What do you do when you’re not free?
Eh, work? I’m working when I’m not free.

What do you work with?
Tattoo artist. If I have a customer so I’m working. If I don’t have a customer, I’m thinking,.

What are you thinking about?
About everything. About my life, about my wonderful life right now.

And so you’re happy?
Yeah. And somehow..

With everything..
I’m happy, but I’m confused happy, I don’t know. I have I have to be happy or I have to be sad, you know, somehow.

How do you, can you explain more?
I’m happy that I have this house now. I have this partner. I have like, uh, a place for sleeping. And but somehow I, I said because I cannot see my family. I miss for them. I miss for my country, you know, and. Yeah, like this, you know. So, for example, I have friends here, you know, but when I meet them and then I come back home, I said they are not my friend because they are not like my friends before, you know, like my friends in my country. You know, we are we were so close together, you know, so, so close and but here just go out, drink beer and then come back home. You know is like that. Yeah.

A bit shallow.

So you mentioned paintings. So what are some things that bring you joy in the life here?
What what do you mean?

Happiness, you know.

What are the things that make you happy?
I need just like easy life, you know, like easy and relaxed life without problem and just it’s not nothing more. You know, I don’t want to be like somebody maybe somebody say, yeah, rich money, but I don’t want it, you know, just very easy and just just a little comfortable, you know, just it.

So other than painting and happy things like you don’t have any other things that make you happy. Like you’re pretty, you’re always happy.
Yeah. Yeah. I’m always happy here. I have a smile always.


Yeah. I noticed that when we met yesterday, you were very happy  right away?

So how has your life been since you, you know, since 2017 when you came here for the first time, you know?
It was so bad when I when I arrived, the first country that I arrive eh it was Greece, in Europe. And it was so, so hard because I live one month, one year over nine months, like one year, I lived in a really bad situation in the camp, you know, in the migration camp. And it was like, I don’t know, how can I explain like, you have a war, you know, you have a war in the camp, but it’s a different country, you know, like we live in the same place, but different country. And they they had always war together, you know, like fighting. So, you know..

You see it’s the same conflict.

As they escape from but they bring the conflict with them.
Yeah. Yes, exactly. And withs really bad foods and place for sleeping we, we sleep in the tent actually in the winter, you know. So dirty, so, so messy. Oh, my God, when I remember it’s fucked up. So.

What are some good things about, you know, being in Europe, since you came?
For me, because I had a really good life in my country, you know, I had a really, really good life, I can say, because I was working for a big company in my country and Europe doesn’t have nothing for me, you know, like I’m here just to be safe, you know, just it. But I want to go I want to be in my country because I love. My family, they’re everything, you know, I have everything. So for me, just be safe.

So safety…|
Yeah safety.

..One of the good things..

…About. Can you describe more about, you know, how it’s like living here? You said, you know, you don’t you don’t feel the same happiness as you did before?

You had the safety. Can you talk more about that?
Uh. How can I explain that like. Mh. in Europe, uh, I think, uh, yeah, I, I left everything in my country, you know, like, all my life, you know, but I think I can start again and give up here, you know, because I think here, a good system, you know, they have a good system here, and maybe if they hold me, you know, I can give up here again, like making a new life.

Uh, start over?
Yeah, yeah. Start my new life. You know. But now I’m really like a baby, like two years old, cannot speak, you know, I don’t understand nothing, you know, like things.

So you can find the same happiness?
Yeah, I yeah. Actually I’m trying to do that, you know, I try to do that, but but yet it’s a little bit hard to do it, you know, because now I’m close because I don’t have residents, you know, that’s and but I hope so. Maybe in future.

How does it feel being, you know, so far away from your family?
Oh, my God. So feel, so sad. Sometimes I’m crying, you know, when I’m calling to my my parents, my mom or my dad. They are good. But we are so miss each other. You know, they are worries about me, you know. But I say, no, I’m I’m here, I’m OK, I’m safe, something like this. But we are so miss, you know, like. Because we had a really family relationship, you know what I mean?

You were close?
Yeah, very close. Not just with my parents, with whole my family, like my cousin and my aunt, my uncle, you know, like these.

And about being in Sweden, you know, you mentioned before, it’s hard, you feel like a guest almost, you know, even in your own home.

How does it feel? You know, you know, to have you felt any discrimination against you or, you know, people see you as different? Yes.
Mhm. Yes. I saw but and I think it’s the same happened for mostly like who has a black hair, you know, because I feel before when I walk in the street like behind some people like Swedish people or Europe people, they are just change the way, you know, like they are scared. But why are you as scared. Because, because of my color. We have just different color, you know. Yeah.

How does it make you feel?
I don’t care, I don’t care. I know they are just human and human, always wrong, you know, like I don’t care, but I hope they are changed in mind, you know, like change their mind and they understand all human the same, you know, like. This is what what we want, you know, like everybody want and now we are fighting for that, you to show, to understand

Has it changed you in any way?
What do you mean?

When you come here and you see, you know, that people are scared of you, you said because of maybe?
No, no, no, I don’t change my mind. Just on follow my way. And I don’t care about these things. Never. Never.

If you tried to think back to, you know, before 2017, could you have imagined that you would go through all of this that you have gone through in the last three years?
I don’t know. It was just in the moment, you know, like. Just, um, I love my country and then I try to come here and all this happens like being the moment, you know? I think so, yeah. If you have to do that, you can do this, you know, like…

You mean, if you have to do it as if you don’t have any more choice?
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

So how did you manage to go through, you know, those three years, like how did you manage to survive? How did you manage to find the strength?
Uh, I believe God, you know, and this is a really important for me and and I just pray God on the way, you know, and really helped me really, really helped me alike all these three years, you know, like, in everything. And… Yeah, I had really hard hard situation, but I withstand, you know, like I said to myself, you have to withstand and you have to to be happy, you know, don’t make yourself tired or sad or something and just pray God and then call my father and talking with my father and, yeah, and looking for something that can make me, like, more strong, you know, and yeah, I’m thinking just about positive things, you know, like a glass when you put water in it, you know, you can see the the..

… the half full.
Yeah, they half full part. Yeah.

So. The things that made you survive for the last few years, you said, you know, you praying, talking to God and so the strength that you had to survive in these three years, do you think it’s something that you always had your whole life or is it something that you learned as you left Iran?
What do you mean? Can you explain it?

I mean that the tools that you had in your heart in your head…

..to survive since 2017. Do you think it’s..have you always had them?
Yes. Yes. I had always.

…or something that you…
No, no, I had always. Yeah.

Can you tell me more?
Uh. I, like all my life, I pray for everything, you know. Like if I want to do something, I pray. If I want something, I pray. If, you know, like for small details, I’m praying, you know, like for everything. Yeah. And it’s make me really, like, hopeful. You know, it’s really because, um, because I believe that, you know, like really believe.

Thank you for telling me. Uh. Have you had, you know, with everything with COVID and the Corona thing, you know, has that affected your life in some way?
No, no, no. I’m a person that I can’t believe this this things, you know, because somehow I think is a game. You know, it’s like a political game in the world, you know, because I was working with with the system, with the political before in my country. And I know them, you know, I know they are so smart and they do everything for power, you know, like. And I know I’m sorry, because many people died in the world of the corona. But still, I couldn’t believe what’s that, you know.

So that hasn’t changed. It hasn’t changed how you feel in your life?
No, nothing nothing.


Um, so if you look back, you know, before it’s close to 2017…|

Before you left, um, can you describe, you know, what happened in Iran, you know, what happened that made you…
Like my life. What? What?

How was my life?

Yeah. What what what made you leave Iran?
Uh huh. So I told you I was working for a big company oilfield company, like, very big. And I was working with, like, high level people in the system, like president, you know, a leader, you know, and I had really, I can say, luxury life, you know, I had and I was really enjoying my life and I really enjoyed my life and.., I have, I had everything, you know, and I was so comfortable. But in the moment something happened, you know, in the system is like is normally, you know, when when you are working for the system, for the regime, you know, like regime in Iran is you have to waiting for some happens always and you have to be scared, you know, and this happened for me, you know, like. And then..

What happened?
So I cannot tell until this happened. But it’s really like….

So something happened.
Yeah. Something happened. Yeah, for me. And then I, I have to I had to leave my country. Like..

How did that make you feel when that something happened?
So it was really bad because I leave everything, you know. I had house, I had car, I had bank account, I had money but I leaved everything in my country, you know, like I don’t have nothing right now, you know, nothing and nothing like zero zero, you know. But and then it’s make me because I really try to have to have this life, you know, like I’m a study so much. I’m working so much, you know, and I’m trying to be a really good person. The company, you know, and yeah, everything I put whole l my life to making a really good life for myself, you know, like all my energy. And then when I leave and left everything in my country, of course, I get so sad, you know?

Do you think that you, you know, everything you did to live that good life back then do you think that you still have some of those tools here?
Yes, I can I can continue my work that I had before in my country because it’s oil company. And I was working in the platform, you know, for a driller, H2s gas or oil. And we have also here in mostly in Norway, we have. But I prefer to just easy work.

I don’t want to do it again.

You don’t want to live that big life?
No I don’t want to be again in the bad situation and leaved Europe again.

So how when you the journey that you did through Europe, how long was it? You know, you said you in 2017 you came to Europe…

And then so nine months in Greece. How long before you came to Sweden?
Uh. Actually, one year I was being away, you know, like eight or nine months in the Greece and the rest always being a different country like Italy, Netherlands, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina. You know, I live in the forest, for example, for one week, I sleep in the forest because we didn’t have we didn’t have any choice, you know, like it was so hard and. Yeah.

How did you how did you feel, you know?
When I was in the forest?

Yeah. And during that time?
I was happy.

You were happy?
Yeah. It was so hard, you know. But I was happy, you know, because because I believe I believe that you have to be happy and nothing can not make you sad, you know. And yeah, maybe in the moments I was a bit sad. But then I said to myself, you have to be happy. It’s a different life. And life is like that, you know, up, down, up, down. And.

Was there something that was that really felt like a big down that you can talk about during that during that time in Europe, travelling to?
Like something make me sad, you mean?

Something that was hard or, you know?

Or difficult?
Yes, I had I have memories. In Greece when when we when we were in the the police office for for for some paper. And they checked everything like your bag, your pocket, your like check you. And then we, we were in the line with some people, you know, in the different country, in the queue for for like one by one going and they are checking. And then because I have this tattoo here, you know, and then one of the police asked me, are you Christian? And I say, yeah, I’m Christian. And he said, you can go it like without check, you know, and everybody around me, like all the people around me look at me, you know? And then I said, Why? Because I have this tattoo? Maybe I’m really bad, man. You know, you have to check me. And that time I was really like, I don’t know, shame or sad, but it was really bad for me, you know? And then I feel really bad. Yeah. This is this is a really bad memories for me.

Um. Do you think about these things, you know, those are the things you went through, you know, the memory you said, do you think about them these days living here?
No, I don’t understand what you mean.

I mean, everything that happened, you know, after coming to Europe, after leaving Iran until today, you know?

Until you came to Sweden, do you still think about it?
Yes, I’m still thinking about it. And I’m still thinking about many things that I that I had in this way, you know, in these three years, you know, and like some happened in the camps, some happened in the way, you know. And then I’m thinking about it. Maybe I can go there, you know, after, for example, when I get my resident, I can go to this camp, for example, because it was so bad, you know, and maybe I can go there and help the people, you know, because nobody don’t care about them, you know, like nothing, you know. Yeah. I’m still thinking and this is my plan, you know, actually, this is my plan. And I really want to to go to some country like Greece or Serbia that you have refugee like many refugees. Yeah. And help them. Yeah. This is my plan, actually.

Yes. Is that something you wished for when you were living in the camp? You wished some …

Someone make things better, you know..

Someone that understood.
Yes, yes. Yes. Sure. But nobody come. It was just wish..

and always look at the door like like a baby waiting for parents, but nobody coming.

So you said, you know, you think about it, but does it affect you? You know, today, like, you know, sometimes if you wake up, for example, in the morning, do you feel extra happy that you know that you live in the house? And…
Of course, yeah, when I’m thinking about the discount that I live in Greece, of course, I have to be happy. Yeah. Yes, and then, when I wake up in the morning, I’m happy, but for example, in the evening when I’m alone at home, you know, and then I’m start thinking about the past, you know, I get sad, you know, it’s like that. Because after they said, I’m confused, somehow I’m sad, somehow I’m happy, you know.

 Do you feel guilty?

If you would have met yourself, you know, when you were you said you were 29 now.

You’re 29. So if you would have if you would go back in time and meet yourself when you were, you know, 25, you know, and you would tell your self when you were 25, like, hey, you know, in the future 2017, you’re going to all of these things: live in the forest for a week, nine months, living in a tent, in a camp, you know, do you think. Twenty five year old. You would have, you know,

believed it or?

Or would you say, like, oh, no, that’s impossible?
Yeah, because I’m a really like, I don’t know, I can say I’m a strong boy or no, I’m like I’m doing, you know, like when I when I have to do something I’m doing, you know, and it’s depending on the moment because I’m a person don’t have a like not making so much plan for a future. Know, I’m just just follow the normally life, you know, and then see what’s happening the way, you know? And I think, yeah, it’s can be.

You said before when you go most of the time when you feel sad, it’s like maybe when you go to sleep and you’re comfortable and you’re alone, how do you, you know, how do you make yourself feel better? How do you process it?
So then I’m thinking about the positive, you know, and then I’m start to thinking about positive things. For example, I think to myself, your resident coming and then you are free. You can go somewhere and you can have your the life that you wanted, you know, and then you can make your life just you have to wait. Just waiting and waiting and. Yeah.

So where do you find support in your life? Where do you get it from?
So I don’t I don’t have a rich family, you know, and I start work, I was start working when I was 20 or 19 and then I supported myself in all of my life.

But I mean, emotion support, like, how do you stay strong?
So I’m, uh, I’m, uh, I’m a stay with myself, you know, and I believe myself, when you believe yourself, you can stay strong.

You’re confident?
Yes, exactly.

Before everything you know happened in Iran when you were living the good life…

What was your dream?
So. My dream. My dream always be like I told you, just easy life, you know, with my with my family, like. I mean, with my wife and my kids, you know, because I really love kids, to have kids. And I made this dream. And for myself, I have a still this dream, you know, and I’m still follow this dream. But when I’m arrive, I don’t know. It’s a question.

So. What was your dream, you said you have this dream to have a wife and kids and simple life?
Wife and kids and normally house and a little money for a normally life. That’s it. You know, I don’t want any more.

And when you left, you know, when you were leaving Iran, what was your, you know, dream for the future then after all the bad things..
In that after bad things, you mean when I’m in here.

No when you left Iran?
So when..

Did you have any hopes or dreams for the future?
Yes, I had some hopes and it was: I’m arrive to the next country healthy. It was my hope in that way, you know, because.

Just survive until the next country?

Before you left, you know, Iran, what were some of the things that made you strong, you know, as a person?
Um. Before before two, twenty two thousand OK, um, I don’t know, it’s a hard question. I don’t know really this question.

So you said you lived a comfortable life in Iran, you know, the job, money.

But you yourself, you know, you said you believe in yourself a lot.
Yes. Yes.

Was that something you always had your whole life? Did you always have this personality of, you know?
Yeah, yeah, I had. Yeah, I had because because I grew up in in a that family, like my father work in a different country. And my mother walked out of house, you know, and me and my sister, I was alone at home, you know, like actually when I was young, you know, like we grow up like that and we are just, just like, make self strong, you know, like like.

You survived, you know.

Even as kids. So did this experience, you know, of leaving Iran in 2017 and coming here has it made you, you know, bigger as a person?
Of course.

More experience?
Yeah, more experience.

In what way?
Like all this way. And like, I’m a person, you know, I’m a person always try to to to to think about everything, you know, and then make self and make my mind, you know, like a complex, you know, like.

So you think a lot?
Yeah. Yes. About everything. And and in this in these three years, you know, that I had like a hard life, you know, I have like many experience because I’ve been in a different country with different people, with different religions, you know. Yeah. And. And this experience now make me like my mind, made my mind like bigger, you know? You know what I mean, like.

You’ve grown. Your mind has grown.
Yes. Yeah.

How do you feel about that?
About my experience?

I like it.

So you like the fact that you have this bigger perspective of the world.
Yes. Yes. And. And I like it because then in the future, I have something to tell my kids: what was my life.

Do you feel proud of your experiences?
Yes, yes, I proud. I really proud. Really proud.

So in. Could you tell me a note saying, you know, my dream is this, you know, if you look at yourself today, you know sitting here, what are your dreams and hopes for the future? If you could tell me, you know, my dream is and my hopes are?
So now because because my location has change, you know, and my my future somehow is a change. And now my dream is I have my own shop, you know, because I really like it.

Tattoo shop?
Yes. Yes. My own tattoo shop in the really good place and like warm and cozy and uh,  yeah. And just enjoying my life. And not something more. That’s it I’m a really easy person.

Also. Yeah. Thank you so much for telling me everything.
Thank you, too.

That was great. I think we’re done.
Thank you for explaining that when I don’t understand

No, of course.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.